American television is influencing what we eat
Sunday 28 June 1998
Glen Chester, who works for the Co-op supermarket in Holmfirth, near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, made his discovery when a customer came into the store asking for soda pop. "I explained to her that soda pop is the American name for soft fizzy drinks such as lemonade and asked her what made her ask for it", he said. "She told me she watches Friends and had seen the actors order it in the cafe featured in the series."
Mr Chester decided that he would make a study of all the American-style foods in the store and find out if customers were influenced by television shows they watch to buy certain foods. To his amazement he found that they were.
People were buying doughnuts to eat at breakfast - an idea they gleaned from the police series NYPD Blue, while their preference for blueberry muffins, cookies and maple syrup as seen in such series as Roseanne, Frasier, Ellen and Hill Street Blues, was quite apparent. Sales of beef burgers even took an upturn after Pulp Fiction was issued on video. Mr Chester, who watches a lot of television and is something of a film buff, asked the store's staff to look out for any changes in sales of American foods. When the in-store cafe put a "maple and pecan plait" on the menu, it was snapped up straight away, while sales of pancakes with maple syrup and milk shakes are exceeding all expectations. "Customers say they want these foods because they have seen them on the television and are curious to know what they taste like," he said.
Food is a major prop in American sitcoms, soaps and detective series. Roseanne is characterised by her kitchen and its wardrobe-sized refrigerator. A sequence barely passes without one of her children or her husband going to the fridge to grab a beer, a Coke, or perhaps a slice of cheesecake. Vast quantities of popcorn, chocolate chip ice cream and peanut butter are consumed in each half-hour episode.
British television viewers seem more inclined to emulate the American way of eating from TV shows. These programmes have a glossy touch whether they are based in a trailer park or in a smart Manhattan apartment. Viewers are not offered much by way of example from the grim reality of our home- grown dramas. Pauline Fowler is rarely seen at the stove in EastEnders, while Pat occasionally dishes a greasy-looking item on to her husband Roy's plate: no wonder he had a heart attack. Instead of British drama focusing on the table, it centres on the pub. In the middle of a murder case, Inspector Morse and his sidekick Lewis would stop off at an idyllic country pub for a beer, while Only Fools and Horses and Coronation Street revolve around the local.
The British have always embraced stylishly packaged goods such as Coke, chewing gum and tomato ketchup, but the Americans are less keen to adopt British staple foods. We might love their southern fried chicken, for instance, but they certainly do not want our pork scratchings.
Glen Chester believes that American television can be a substitute for travelling to the actual place. "In the same way that people become more adventurous with the food they eat on holiday, they want to try things they have seen eaten on imported television programmes."
So will the Co-op tag their goods with little reminders of the TV stars' eating habits? Perhaps "Frasier's favourites", "Rachel's raspberry jelly filled bagel" or "NYPD blueberry muffins"? "We have decided to base a whole promotion around American foods and adding an 'as seen in' sticker may encourage our customers to buy more," he said.
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